Review by Thakur Ranjit Singh, Auckland: PMC
Media7, TV New Zealand’s digital TV channel news analysis programme, convened a panel discussion on February 5 about the reporting of the ongoing saga of Fiji politics and how New Zealand is perceived as a "bully". Leading independent journalist Russell Brown was presenter and interviewer and the panel members were:
Dr David Robie - former head of the University of the South Pacific’s journalism school in Suva and now associate professor and director of AUT University's Pacific Media Centre. He also operates the Café Pacific blog.
Barbara Dreaver - Pacific affairs reporter for TVNZ who was denied entry into Fiji, detained and sent packing back to NZ by the interim regime.
Robert Khan - managing director of the Auckland-based Hindi station Radio Tarana that brings in local news about Fiji.
Russell Brown handled the discussion very ably, allowing all panelists to give their views and presented thoughts and questions that smoothly ran through the programme and maintained the momentum. There was never a dull moment.
The speakers well represented the width and breadth of media, ranging from a media educator with good exposure to Fiji and the Pacific, a practising journalist who has been in the thick of Fiji reporting and an Indo-Fijian proprietor of the leading Hindi radio station that has been the voice of Fiji in Auckland.
David Robie eloquently narrated and critically analysed Fiji in a way that other Kiwi journalists have failed to do. He displayed maturity and understanding that sadly is lacking in his peers in NZ. He was right to point out that the last coup was the result of unresolved issues and problems, but it appears NZ leadership has not been interested in listening to this. It would be nice if Prime Minister John Key’s administration pick that up because it appears his new government has failed to appreciate what David Robie had been saying. He echoed my views that NZ media had been wanting in proper reporting and analysis of Fiji issues. They are unaware why change has to come, as they fail to appreciate the situation.
Dr Robie summed up the situation well by stating that while no coups are good, the last one by Commodore Frank Bainimarama was for a better vision for Fiji, to inculcate multiracialism among other objectives, whereas the past coups were ethno-nationalist takeovers based on promoting the supremacy of one particular race.
Robert Khan was correct in pointing out that his organisation, Radio Tarana, seems to understand the Fiji situation well while other mainstream media take a simplistic view of the country. There appears to be a dearth of journalist in NZ who understand Fiji well. This is because those media organisations do not have people who understand Fiji. In contrast, Tarana has Fiji-born reporters.
Robert Khan was critical of Fiji media and even went to the extent of accusing various media organisations of having a political agenda but was too cautious to give any examples. He mentioned Fiji Television and expected others to fill in the gap, instead of answering the question on political affiliation he posed the question to the panel. He appeared to have been too expedient and minced his words but Barbara Dreaver took this opportunity to praise Fiji Television journalists rather than criticise them for anything.
Barbara Dreaver’s explanation of why John Key’s accusation against the Fiji interim Attorney-General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum, that he should be tried was downplayed by NZ media was waffled and unconvincing. Her reason was time difference and the media had gone to sleep. She failed to tell that they did wake up the following morning, yet we failed to hear anything about this. One can be excused for saying that while NZ media takes any opportunity to slate Bainimarama, they downplayed Key’s slip up perhaps to protect him and reflect him in a better light.
Robert Khan was frank in this instance to say that Key’s statement on Sayed-Khaiyum was perceived by Indo-Fijians that Key had gone to Port Moresby for the Pacific Islands Forum meeting with a set mind and agenda and went more to tell rather than listen and understand the situation.
The flaw in NZ media was further reflected by their coverage announcing that Bainimarama had said that elections would be held in 10 years time. The translation showed that what actually was said was that it could take up to 5 to 10 years. Hence NZ media need to treat Fiji with greater respect and with a better standard of reporting than the sloppiness which has been quite evident.
Robert Khan was again on the side of caution and expediency when discussing Fairfax journalist Michael Field. While he said Field deserved a proper hearing for his deportation, he failed to mention that if Field was such an experienced reporter then how come Kiwis were so ignorant about Fiji. If somebody who claims to have virtually spent his lifetime in the Pacific and Fiji reporting, then he owes a moral obligation to use his experience curve and his contact with mainstream NZ media in better informing and analysing the Fiji situation to the ignorant Kiwis who still cannot appreciate the real situation there. He failed Fiji in that respect.
Game plan lacking
Barbara Dreaver came out as somebody who did appreciate the Fiji situation when she categorically stated that there was nothing wrong with Bainimarama’s vision on Fiji. It is very good and there is great deal of support for it in Fiji. She is perfectly right in this regard. She added that what was lacking was the game plan and how things were done. The fact that Bainimarama keeps changing his mind was identified as a problem that retards any progress in achieving that vision. One major issue identified was the constant changing of his mind by the military boss.
David Robie was bold in being critical of his government and he appears to be one of the few Kiwi analysts who are prepared to do this. He agrees that NZ is not realistic in time table. Bainimarama wishes to change the electoral process and there is a fair amount of support for this. However, this is not reflected in the NZ media. The People's Charter process involved a large number of qualified and talented people to forge a way forward and Dr Robie echoed the view of Robert Khan that there was a need to look at solutions and attempts made at resolving unresolved issues to avoid future coups. One was a change in an unfair electoral system where the race-based system favours the rural voters, who have up to twice the weighting for their votes when compared to their urban cousins.
In summing up, Robert Khan echoed the sentiments that I have been stressing in and around NZ media since December 2006. A coup is no solution. Worse than a coup is a failed coup and NZ could contribute to this failure if it maintains its non-compromising stance. Khan reiterated what has been said often that democracy in Fiji is different from that in NZ in that it has to take control of the situation and help arrive at a solution to avoid future coups. Well said, but who will tell this to John Key’s policy writers and bureaucrats in the Beehive who themselves are uninformed about Fiji.
In summary, this was a topical and pertinent subject, well presented and well covered. The only hope is that John Key gets to watch this or at least get to read this review. Such coverage of important issues fills up the vacuum that is left by the mainstream media which shows a pathetic attitude to Fiji in particular and Pacific in general.
If there was a prize available, I would award it to David Robie for his display of profound understanding on the Fiji issue and ability to analyse this in simple terms for everybody to understand. Nevertheless, all the panelists were great and showed their respective acumen in their area of specialty.
If Ministry of Foreign Affairs officials listened to a such panel discussion and such frank discussion and analysis on Fiji, they need not cut and paste Labour party’s foreign policy on Fiji.
John Key displayed his conciliatory temperament and humility at home with the Maori people when he brought two diametrically opposed politicians - Rodney Hide and Dr Peter Sharples - under one umbrella. Had he displayed similar skills at Port Moresby in his treatment of Fiji, then commentators like me would have no reason to accuse him of clinging on to Helen Clark’s petticoat in determining foreign policy on Fiji.
Thakur Ranjit Singh is a political commentator on Fiji issues and a former publisher of the Fiji Daily Post. Pictured: TVNZ's Barbara Dreaver.
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